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Blog: The injustice of English bereavement damages

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The injustice of English bereavement damages
Chris Deacon | 10 Aug 2015

The shockingly low level of bereavement damages under English law was thrown into the headlines once again earlier this year following the inquest into the deaths of Robert and Christianne Shepherd who were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning back in 2006 whilst on a Thomas Cook holiday to Corfu.  Much of the press at the time focussed on Thomas Cook’s disastrous PR and handling of the case but the case also served to highlight the injustice of the very low level of damages which are often awarded following a fatal accident under English law.

The current level of bereavement damages is £12,980.  That is the price put on the life of a loved one killed in a fatal accident and fixed by statute.  In a fatal accident claim involving a child, with no financial dependents, there may also be a modest claim for funeral expenses but very little else can be claimed as a matter of law, despite the devastating impact such a loss will have on the family. 

English law also limits the class of relatives that can bring a claim for bereavement damages.  Contrast this to the position in Spain, Italy, Greece or even Poland, for example, where a much wider class of relatives are entitled to claim damages following a fatal accident and where, contrary to what many might think, the awards tend to be much higher. 

In the case of accidents occurring at a hotel or holiday accommodation, better protection is usually afforded to those who book a package holiday directly with a UK based tour operator where any claims arising from the provision of the package would be governed by English law.  However, if the claim is for bereavement damages following a fatal accident, the family of the deceased may obtain better redress from a claim brought directly against the hotel, accommodation provider or their insurers to which the law of the country where the fatal accident occurred will likely apply.

The damages paid under English law following a fatal accident, when set against the damages paid for fatal accidents in other European countries, is yet another poor reflection of the value placed on life in our society.  The government issued a consultation on this topic back in 2007 but then did nothing.  It is high time that action was taken to correct this injustice but, with a new Conservative government intent on repealing the Human Rights Act (which itself codifies the right to life found at Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights into English law), once again, and regrettably, reform of bereavement damages is unlikely to feature on the parliamentary agenda without a campaign effort such as APIL’s.

Past blog entries

A ‘no-fault’ system for clinical negligence claims will not work for anyone, 12 Apr 2022
We need peers to flex their political muscles again, 28 Mar 2022
How to solve a problem like e-scooters, 17 Feb 2022
Accident and negligence: what’s the difference and why does it matter? , 02 Aug 2021
Patient safety problems risk waning public confidence in the NHS , 20 May 2021
Consumers will not benefit from Do-it-Yourself whiplash reforms, 28 Jan 2021
Effects of a change in the discount rate: what happens when a review is expected? , 16 Dec 2020
Three per cent drop in premiums does not reflect massive insurer savings, 09 Nov 2020

About this blog

Chris Deacon

Chris is secretary of APIL’s international special interest group and an Associate in the Aviation and Travel Department at Stewarts Law. He acts almost exclusively for the victims of accidents abroad and in disputes with tour operators, hotels, travel providers and insurers.